PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the last American orchestra to perform in Iran, is considering a return a half-century later for what would be a groundbreaking concert tour.
Officials with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the American Middle East Institute are in talks with Iran about a potential trip in September, although many hurdles remain given the countries’ history of strained relations, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.
State Department senior adviser Gregg Sullivan confirmed that U.S. officials are aware of the efforts also involving high-level officials in Tehran.
“They still have a lot of details to work out, but we’re going to stay in close touch with them as this goes forward,” he said.
Officials from the orchestra, which performed two concerts in Tehran in 1964, and representatives of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit plan an advance trip to the country next month during the Fajr International Music Festival.
Institute president Simin Curtis said a return tour, which may include a visit to the nearby Persian Gulf nation of Oman, “will be a sensation” if it occurs.
The Philadelphia Orchestra traveled to China in 1973, the year after President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking visit and two years after American table tennis players arrived in what was dubbed “pingpong diplomacy.” The New York Philharmonic Orchestra traveled to North Korea in 2008, and in 1987 the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was the first U.S. orchestra to visit China in that decade and also performed in the Soviet Union in 1989.
“A symphony orchestra can accomplish historic symbolic breakthroughs in the form of these kinds of missions of cultural diplomacy,” said Robert Moir, the Pittsburgh symphony’s senior vice president of artistic development and audience engagement.
The orchestra would be interested in playing music by Iranian and American composers and performing alongside Iranian soloists, Moir said. The 1964 concerts featured works by Barber, Berlioz, Copland, Elgar, Hindemith, Mahler, Schubert, Wagner and Weber.
Sullivan said obstacles that must be overcome include provisions of sanctions and visa considerations. Moir said securing an invitation from the Iranian government and security issues are among the institute’s considerations.
“I think that it will be a wonderful climate and environment to resume our relationship with the people of Iran,” Moir said. “This is a people-to-people type of diplomacy mission; obviously, that means that things have taken a turn for the much much better.”
Listen below to KDKA Radio’s Bill Rehkopf’s interview with Robert Moir: